By Saad Haq
Time is fleeting, not looking back to anyone or anything. In the age of 24/7 information through news outlets, social media, and word of mouth, time feels compressed. A day ago seems like a week ago, a week ago seems like a month ago, and a month ago seems like a year ago. Events that happened last week have been long forgotten due to recent events of the current week.
This year, Ramadan came and went for me. I was able to re-energize, renew my intentions, and start over. The goal was to be a better version of myself, and carry that forward until next Ramadan. While trying to better myself, it was difficult to hear the news around the word, from Manchester, Portland, Syria, Mosul, Kabul, London, Virginia, and other places I am not remembering at the moment. All were acts of terror, with different magnitudes and portrayals from the media and the public. I was walking with a heavy heart every day, reminding myself of what is happening in our society.
We live in a world where one of the wealthiest, and most popular athletes in the world, LeBron James, had his house vandalized with racial slurs because of the color of his skin. It shows that regardless of economic and social status, he is still not considered an equal in America. Never in anyone’s wildest imagination would have ever thought pop singer Ariana Grande and ISIS would forever be linked; it is the most improbable of scenarios. In Portland, a man was shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two young women and then killed 2 men and injured another (all non-Muslim) when they came to the aid of those two young women.
All these examples show that fear and hate are indiscriminate, it does not have any religion, color, or gender, it is manufactured with the sole purpose to divide people and create scapegoats – painting entire communities as enemies. As a community, we must not fall into this trap.
When my father came to America in 1974, he came for a better opportunity, knowing that hard work would open doors for him. As I was growing up, I learned that America is the land of opportunity, where the only requirement in achieving the American dream was hard work, it did not matter where you came from, the doors were open to everyone. This American ideal does not mirror what we are observing and experiencing today.
Now I am a father and as all fathers do, I had asked my son, what he would like to be when he grew up. His response was that he wanted to be Iron Man or Batman. I was expecting a school bus driver, a fireman, or a police officer, but instead, he gave me the names of his 2 favorite super heroes. Though he is thinking of saving the world with limitless gadgetry, athletic ability, and sleuthing, the Southeast Asian/Pakistani in me is thinking of the superhero’s day job – becoming an Engineer, Entrepreneur, Billionaire, and Philanthropist. But why not both? I’m not saying that he should become a superhero as the one we see in movies and comic books, but can he not aspire to do all these things, or anything else he chooses to do? Can he not uphold his beliefs and values and be like the men in Portland who came to the rescue of those two young women, or will he be looked upon as a villain, regardless of all the good he does – just because of his faith and color of his skin?
Today, I think to myself, should my children grow up to learn that once upon a time, America was the land of opportunity, that the American dream was just that, an unreachable dream? As green card and visa holders, refugees, and even citizens are being questioned of their identity, they are being told they do not belong here, that the land of opportunity and the American dream is not meant for them. We must remind the public that America is defined by its diversity in faiths, professions, its inclusion, and its values. These times are trying, but there is one thing we cannot allow, for this country’s narrative to be hijacked. It is our obligation, to tell the stories that people need to hear, and to be the best representatives of our faith and our values that we can possibly be.
This nation was formed by the signatures of immigrants and refugees. Our past, present, and future has and forever will be sewn within the foundation and fabric of this nation. This is the narrative that we need to promote and remind people about – with truth, decency, and humility.
Before, I would tell everyone the best thing we can do is something simple, be curious, learn about other people, visit their houses of worship, greet them with peace and work together. But today, it will not be as simple. In addition, we will need to act with heavy hearts and minds. We will be challenged, our faith and values will be challenged – we will finally discover if we act on our words and intentions.
The forces against us are working day and night. The forces of good, all of them, will need to be better, smarter, and faster. Our children will grow up faster and we will need to keep up with their questions and curiosity. But please remember, in this fight and in this struggle, know that we are all one community, know that we will pick each other up, know that we need to stick together, and support each other.
When I feel helpless and need a reminder to keep myself hopeful, inspired, and motivated, I remember the following Quranic verse from Surah Ar-Rum (30:60): “So patiently persevere: for verily the promise of Allah is true: nor let those shake thy firmness, who have (themselves) no certainty of faith.”
We must take and apply the inspiration that we receive from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions, from influencers and heroes from the recent past such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Muhammad Ali, and finally influencers and heroes from today such as Linda Sarsour, Nihad Awad, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In order for us to create a path forward and stand on the shoulders of giants, we must climb through many obstacles and great heights. We must embark on this journey with humility and gratitude and that remember that every ability we have is God given, and everything happens because of His will, so each time we feel we are slipping and falling, remember that He will pick us up and guide us to the right path. All we need to do is ask.
We need to build upon the legacy of our influencers and heroes and pave the way forward for future generations so that one day, they can stand on our shoulders.